My ICNA-MAS Experience as a Biracial African Woman

Assalamualaykum,

My name is Bilqis Adebayo-Olympio, I am a media professional and the co-founder of Official Hijabi, a Muslimah lifestyle media platform.

All praise is due to Allah The Almighty, and great thanks to the organizers of this year’s ICNA-MAS convention for creating a platform that gathers together thousands of people from different parts of the world, for promoting unity, hope, and solidarity.

For the first time ever, I attended the 42nd ICNA-MAS Convention at the Convention Center in the great city of Baltimore-DC alongside my husband and our toddler, and it was a really great personal and professional development opportunity and experience. According to the stats, over 22,000 people attended this event over two days from different parts of the world. I see the ICNA Convention as a platform that really brings people together to learn, to grow, and to network with like-minded individuals within our own industry – which is Islam.

One of my favourite aspects of the convention was the level of organization, dedication and hard work that took place during the event. The flexibility of the programs and just the diversity of topics that were being treated by distinguished scholars, inspiring speakers, and community leaders was amazing. There is something for everyone. For every skill-set, every age-range, and every gender.

The theme of this year’s convention was ‘Quest for True Success’. This is reminding us as Muslims to go back to the basics. What it takes to live a life of principle, a life of ethics, a life of morality, a life of value, a life that one will be proud to live and meet with Allah SWT on the day of judgement. When you’re around so many Muslims, it inspires you to be a better person. I felt this boost in my Iman and it was absolutely needed especially with the blessed month of Ramadan coming up, it was the perfect time to rejuvenate and reflect about my purpose in this world.

I was also surprised at the beauty of the bazaar, never have I seen so many Muslim vendors come together in one place to create more awareness about their brands. There was so much to see, buy, and contribute to. From hand-painted ceramic wares, amazing quality modest outfits, to uplifting causes, charity, and relief programs. I was also able to meet and interact with some of my favourite personalities I’ve known over the years from social media.

I recently stumbled across an article on the internet that suggested that ICNA practised racism because it failed to include black female speakers on its flyer. It was a bit shocking to me because throughout my entire stay at the convention, I was in so much awe at the diversity of people. And the speakers were obviously exceptional in their niche, and I was just soaking up so much from what they had to offer and share with the audience, I didn’t even have time to notice their race or culture. And I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that.

My biggest inspiration as an individual surrounds female empowerment and the need to constantly promote the beauty of Islam through my platform, and I agree 100% that representation matters. Representation is key. And because representation matters, there has to be individuals who are willing to step up and fill out those spaces. Inclusivity is really important because everyone needs to be valued and feel like their identity matters.

There are a ton of individuals out there who are just as suitable and qualified, but regardless of whether an invite is sent out or accepted, I think we as individuals have to pursue what we want. The problem with our society is we need to complain less and work more. Work smart, not work hard. Be that change you want to see in the society. Get out of your comfort zone, be at the frontlines, step up and take that space.

When the world seems divided, coming together can be a beautiful thing. Especially with all that’s going on in the political climate, now more than ever, we as Muslims need to come together and stand together in being united. As Muslims, we should only strive for “Taqwa”. Righteousness is the only quality that makes someone virtuous in the sight of Allah, not race or skin colour or lineage or country. ICNA to me is far from being racist, and they have come a long way in promoting diversity, inclusivity, and unity not just amongst Muslims but with Non-Muslims as well.

 

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